Now, with two vital matches approaching, Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders roster are stuck between the proverbial petrified tree and a hard place (namely the unstable San Andreas Fault). With only a day separating the Cascadia Cup from the Open Cup, Sigi will be forced to weigh the ability and fitness of the side he trots out with the skill of the teams they will face and the importance of the games they will play.
Seattle could decide to punt the game against the Timbers on Sunday in order to field a full lineup against San Jose, and perhaps that would have been a good idea before this recent six game, three point stretch. But the fact is that Seattle currently sits seven points out of first place in the west, with only a game in hand against conference -leading Salt Lake. Almost as much as protecting the Cascadia Cup, those three points matter. And while Portland hasn't taken points against Seattle in a game that has mattered since 1975, anyone who knows sports knows that, when bragging rights are on the line, crazy things can happen.
The reality is that Seattle will have to run sides at less than full strength for both of these matches, and subs will have to be used with a great deal of care. Most importantly, that means shuffling the back line and hoping beyond hope that Gonzalez and Johansson can get a half or two on the pitch in the next seven days. It isn't even a matter of skill; if Burch and Scott have to chase down countering defenders twice in three days, Wondolowski is going to feast on Sounder Tuesday night (though, considering the liquid nature of the Sound, I imagine it wouldn't be all that satisfying for him). More critically is the situation at center back, where I would expect a Hurtado-Ianni pairing to begin the Portland match and a Hurtado-Parke in the Open Cup.
Evans and Rosales clearly won't play every minute in each of these games, so helpings of Andy Rose and Cordell Cato (or, as Dave aptly named him, the "Man on Fire") seem likely. Zakuani could perhaps see time against San Jose, but Fernandez will miss the Portland match, meaning he will be one of the few fully-rested starters for the Open Cup. If there was ever a time for him to shake off some of the recent rust and have a DP-worthy game, it would be that one. Who will play in his place at Jeld-Wen is up in the air, but it could very well end up being Alex Caskey. I don't know if Alonso can play up to his own standards through 180 minutes over three days, but Sigi has not shown faith in Carrasco this year, and playing without the CDM is not a risk I see Sigi taking again.
At forward, expect Montero to play every single minute in these two games. Sigi will likely tell him to take it easy, not make many runs he doesn't have to, to make sure he's fresh enough to compete against the Earthquakes. It is a different story with Johnson. It wouldn't be shocking if he wasn't in the starting XI at all on Sunday, making room for Ochoa or Cato (or Other).
Last year the 3-2 victory in Portland was part of a stretch of exciting, comeback victories that catapulted the 2011 Seattle Sounders into contention for the Supporter's Shield. In the best case scenario, the same thing could happen this weekend, but the team needs to show the resolution they showed in front of adversity last year, not what they showed in Montreal.
I am confident that the side as projected above can go into Portland and leave with three points. There are a number of reserves, but much of the core is intact. Of course, if Johansson or Gonzalez are ready to go this week, one of them should get the nod. Hopefully Ochoa will use this opportunity to show why Seattle traded for him last year, by putting his head on a Rosales cross.
|Vs San Jose|
|Parke||Johansson (health permitting)|
Cross your fingers and hope our back line can look like this come Tuesday. If three of the four defensive starters from Sunday carry over to the Open Cup, I don't see anything good coming of it.